Article: Damning findings in NSW health inquiry - 24 June 2004

Camden Nurses
Sydney Morning Herald

A parliamentary inquiry has found there has been a widespread cover-up of problems throughout the NSW health system.

" One of the most important findings of this inquiry is the routine non-disclosure of adverse events in the health system," the upper house inquiry's report said.

Inquiry chairman Gordon Moyes also said he believed the whistleblower nurses who accused former health minister Craig Knowles of bullying them were telling the truth.

" We had what you might say is some DNA on Craig Knowles," Dr Moyes said of the nurses' evidence about their meeting with Mr Knowles over complaints of maltreatment at Campbelltown and Camden hospitals.

" There's no question in my mind that they told the truth."

Dr Moyes also spoke of a protective network of female health administrators, including sacked former chief of Camden and Campbelltown Jennifer Collins and her successor Deborah Piccone.

" There certainly was an old girls' network," he said.

Opposition Leader John Brogden said Mr Knowles must now resign over the damning findings, particularly that the Camden maternity ward appeared to have been opened prematurely for political reasons.

The opposition has sought to link the lack of resources with the death of a baby girl there.

" That ought to burn through Craig Knowles' heart and his conscience every day," Mr Brogden said.

" Craig Knowles must resign."

But current Health Minister Morris Iemma said his predecessor had no case to answer.

Mr Iemma also rejected the finding that cover-ups of "adverse events" were commonplace throughout the health system, saying the inquiry had only thoroughly examined the South Western Sydney Area Health Service.

" It then heard some evidence from central Sydney and some very minor information from the Hunter," he said.

" From that they made statewide interpretations.

" I think the statistical information and the evidence given doesn't support that."

But Mr Iemma said most of the inquiry's recommendations either would be adopted or were already being implemented.

Earlier today, Craig Knowles said he had been interviewed by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) over claims he bullied whistleblower nurses at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals.

A spokeswoman for Mr Knowles confirmed the ICAC had spoken to him about the alleged cover-up of maltreatment at south-west Sydney hospitals.

" Craig has been interviewed by ICAC and he will continue to cooperate fully with the ICAC investigation," she said, but could not comment further.

The opposition yesterday released letters confirming the appointment of retired Supreme Court judge, John Clarke, QC, to investigate the allegations of corrupt conduct.

Opposition leader John Brogden said the appointment indicated the seriousness of the case.

But an ICAC spokesman said it was a "pretty standard practice" to take on former judges to head investigations.

NSW Premier Bob Carr today said the ICAC was entitled to pursue an inquiry, but allegations of corruption against Mr Knowles lacked truth.

He said the former health minister instructed his staff to investigate the complaints in a memo written the same day he met with the nurses.

" The minister has an iron-clad defence and it's there in writing," Mr Carr told reporters.

" There's not the faintest truth ... in any attack on the former health minister Craig Knowles for his handling of his issue."

Mr Carr played down the probe and said when an allegation of corruption was raised it was part of the function of government that it be investigated.

More than 20 patient deaths at Campbelltown and Camden have been investigated during the special inquiry, with ICAC investigating whether there has been any cover-up of this and other maltreatment from the minister down.

The commission was also looking into allegations a patient was euthanased at Liverpool Hospital to free up bed space and also may inquire into other institutions.

Meanwhile, one of the state's key teaching hospitals, St Vincent's, said it was exploring options with the Department of Health to assist Campbelltown and Camden hospitals.

The hospital, which receives an annual subsidy from the NSW government, said it was already working with Campbelltown and Liverpool hospitals to provide training and supervision of medical staff.